Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ruth Stone's "Am I"

One poem in "In the Dark" prompted multiple readings and analysis to ask of it the means of its making.  The poem is the fascinating "Am I", which if you haven't done so, please read it on pp. 21-22 before proceeding further.

"Am I" makes the whole poem, its labyrinth of twists and turns until the end of all of not knowing Am I into more not knowing of "Am I crazy?" You are outside looking in, as the speaker of the poem was at the Boston Psychopathic, so the poem is outside looking in asking you the reader "Am I crazy?".  Not past tense: is the poem, too, crazy?  Is the reader outside judging the speaker crazy?  Well, the poet takes the reader inside the mind of the speaker to ask:  are the speaker, poet, poem, and reader all crazy?  And how can you tell unless you experience what the speaker experiences.
"Am I" has another inference.  Do I exist?  Is this madness a dream or is reality a dream?  How do I know I exist if I am crazy and the Freudian psychoanalyst's sanity is crazier than the supposed crazy one? In fact, he appears as much a danger to the speaker's condition of what or who "Am I."

I am going to tie this to the brilliant Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley's famous poetic insight "Form is Content" and to one of the many great masterful poems of Wallace Stevens entitled "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven."

Quickly. events such as husband's suicide and where and when she sees Dr. Leigh, tennis player, who is a neurosurgeon, which probably in those days meant a lobotomist, become jumbled, and we begin to lose track of cause and effect, splicings of conversation of other people, places, poets (Keats, equally famous for his definition of a poet as one who is able to live in "negative capability"). The twist and turn jumble ever faster as the poem takes us all over the place, the world, like a psychosis or a paranoid is supposed to speak like...then saying this to the inside the Boston Psychopathic, inside the speaker's speeding mind... associating words, events, people with what next comes to mind.

Form is never more than an extension and is inseparable from the content of the poem, Creeley was pointing out to readers and poets alike. Form is the content, has meaning, and is saying something in the poem. The poem may be in form that you actually have to read it as a kind of content in the same way as you do the content (either reinforcing, off against, interplay, or instant of describing the content.)

That is, how you say something in a poem is more important than what you say, and this poem is a good example of this approach to writing a poem:  how you say what is said in a poem is what you say in the poem.  It is what the poet self makes through language that is what the poetry does in the poem not what the purported descriptions and narrative telling the reading what it is.  The modernist poem is not about what it is or about content primarily; it is about form that determines the content with the content arising from the form of the poem.

Ruth Stone is using the form as content, as well, describing the condition the speaker is suffering under by poetically bringing the reader inside what its like to be, appear to be, or not know whether you are "crazy" by juxtapositions, leaps with no nets, surreal jumbling of events, suspending time and space and cause and effect, time traveling in the mind throughout the world in matter of minutes.  She gives you the experience of chaos:  she shows and doesn't not merely tell the reader about the experience.

Wallace Stevens in Section XII of "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," says much the same thing in his own way when he says that

     The poem is the cry of its occasion,
     Part of the res itself and not about it.
     The poet speaks the poem as it is,...

The poem is always about the making of itself and is not about anything outside of itself.  It is not a function of description of a narrative of the poet, necessarily, or even the speaker of the poem, all of the time.  In other words, a poem at its best takes the reader where the senses stop making sense; it reveals to the reader the reality that exists behind and in between the lines, rearranging how the reader experiences things and existence.

The great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, once ended a poem, "You must change your life."  That is what this way of poetry does:  it changes your life by transforming how you put language, words, and images together at a primal level, where every human lives every moment of their lives.

I thought I'd throw a different way of interpreting one of her poems in hopes of stimulating your readings and ideas.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A second half summary using common themes of groups of three poems ( which is the pattern I started in my first bog ) will round out my study of Ms. Gluck's poetry book, "Faithful and Virtuous Night" The first three ( poems 13,14, & 15) deal with situations involving professions in the arts, such as; an artist, a musician, and a writer. Also, outside agents produce change. In the poem "Sword In the Stone", it is the medicine and the therapist's watchfulness; in "Forbidden Music" it's the actual performance of the forbidden music and in "The Open Window" it's the wind itself.

 Poems 16, 17, & 18 have a lack of physical movement as a common theme, while the next group
( poems 19, 20, & 21 ) deals with approaching death. Finally, there is a sense of being alone in the last three poems 22, 23, & 24. I particularly liked the poetic description found in the last poem, "The Couple in the Park":..... her heart springs open like a child's music box. And out of the box comes a little ballerina made of wood.

As I said in my previous blog, the second half of this book is for me "the dark side of the moon". My least favorite poems are "The Melancholy Assistant", A Foreshortened Journey" and :Approach to the Horizon" since these deal with a lack of physical movement. I feel being positively connected to our world and being "pro active" is essential to good health.

On the other hand, the most favorite poem for me is: "The Past" because Ms. Gluck uses unusual details to describe being in a hammock and the poem also appeals to the senses which is one of the things I like to do in poetry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Thoughtful groups of words

Greetings all,
As I am getting used to Gluck's structure of poetry, I am finding some of the poet's lines quite fetching and so descriptive:
"Parable" starts out with a good first line:
"First divesting ourselves of worldly goods, as St. Francis teaches,..."
"...pilgrims rather than wanderers" offers such a distinction of meaning. This phrase hits home because I am planning to walk the "camino" in Spain next year.

"An Adventure" cleverness of numbering the paragraphs. Simple but intriguing.
Humorous to me was: "Neigh,neigh, said my heart, or perhaps nay, nay- it was hard to know" adds on such a wonderful storytelling feature.

I enjoy the minute detail of "the smell of a white pine" in The Past, which prompted me to read about the White Pine. Maybe the "smell" is not so minute.
I am working on a piece on Birch trees.The senses derive from  intricacies of  nature and our attachment to.
As the poet compares her mother's voice with the sound of White Pines, or simply trees...a negative characteristic? Love the question at the end; to leave the reader in a quandary.

I am still reading "Faithful and Virtuous Night" over and over. Um. I have a long ways to go with this piece. Meanwhile:
A clever beginning with a word play.
"a sound of buzzing like the sound of prayers", "striped pyjamas", "Restless, are you restless?" (equal)  less is more!
"... like a lighthouse whose one task is to emit a signal"
An ominous sign in stanza 8?
Gosh, how I remember those aweful Dick and Jane readers. Gluck nailed the memory.
Lovely description: "How deep it goes, this soul, like a child in a department storie, seeking its mother-". Loved it!
To be continued...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In these poems,the younger brother's pain resulting from his parent's early death can be seen. In "Cornwall" an abyss is shaped like the tree that confronted his parents and, in "Afterword", it is a crisis of vision corresponding to the tree that confronted his parents. "Midnight" highlights the results of the parents' death with the line "you boys are though our whole childhood had an exhausted quality". A beautiful poetic description in "Midnight" is: "Below, the river sparkled. As I said, everything glittered - the stars, the bridge lights, the important illuminated buildings that seem to stop at the river then resume again, man's work interrupted by nature."

In my first blog I said I was interested in words which are repeated in the book. One such word is glittered ( or glittering ). In one sense this refers to small pieces of highly reflective material. However in another,this refers to actions which could manifest a certain results, if the action is taken. For example, in the poem "A Sharply Worded Silence"  there is a glittering door knob the person in the garden would stare at (after her wanderings) contrasted with the poet's assumption that at some point, there would be a glittering door knob (for her ).

"Glittering" refers to landscapes, too. This helps the reader notice not only the effects, but the varied associations that affect the reader as well.

This marks the halfway point in Ms. Gluck's book. this half could be compared to the full moon,  while for me, the second half of the book represents the dark side of the moon.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

As I perceive it, the most influential poem of the book is, of course,"Faithful and Virtuous Night"      8 out of 24 poems in the poetry book  refer to either the characters or the plot of this poem. In comparing "Faithful and Virtuous Night", "Theory of Memory', and "A Sharply Worded Silence" the child or the child/mother theme can be seen; ( Faithful & Virtuous Night ) "How deep it goes, this soul, like a child in a department store, seeking its mother"; ( "Theory of Memory" ) "Right now, you are a child holding hands with a fortune teller........"; ( "A Sharply Worded Silence" ) -so I realized, my mother used to speak to me in sharply worded silences cautioning me and chastising me......

A beautiful description for me in Faithful & Virtuous Night was "Outside, night was falling. Was it the lost night, star covered, moon-light spattered, like some chemical preserving everything immersed in it?". This brings to mind T.S. Elliot for me.

A common element in the next three poems could be family / death. ("Visitors From Abroad") Or was it not the phone, but the door (that rang) perhaps? My mother and father stood in the cold on the front steps... We read your books in heaven....and they pointed to my dead sister, a complete stranger."  ( "Aboriginal Landscape" ) "Your stepping on your father, my mother said, and indeed I was........You're stepping on your father, she repeated, louder this time, which began to be strange to me,since she was dead herself......("Utopia") "It will be the right train, said the woman, because it is the right time........How terrified I am, the child thinks, clutching the yellow tulips she will give her grandmother.

A beautiful poetic description in "Visitors From Abroad" is: Who calls in the middle of the night? Trouble calls, despair calls. joy is sleeping like a baby

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shapeshifting Night

Maribeth is onto something! Maribeth's comment on Gluck's poem, The Past, prompted an exploration for any comment on it.  The author of the link uses the metaphor of the movies suggested by the poem itself to pursue in more detail Maribeth's experience of the poem. 
For me, when she describes her deceased mother's voice as the same as the sound wind makes through trees, as "passing through nothing", the image of the past, memories, thoughts, experiences, and even our lives flashed through my mind.
Where is the narrator of the poem and who is the narrator of the poem?  In fact, can the reader take anything for granted with her elliptical and elusive style, making it difficult to get hold of "facts" that usually make a traditional autobiographical narrative. 
Her self is very malleable, being male at one point; other selves emerge later in the book.  Is she trying them on to see where it takes her since as she says in the Parable she wants to live out and go beyond both being a pilgrim or wanderer with purpose and with no purpose? In other words, at the edge of life if only in the poem or in her imaginary life.
Parable and The Adventure helps prepare us for the death of her or the narrator's parents when she/he was a child/imagined child in The Past.  The first two poems invoke ultimate meaning or  the absolute and the paradoxes of life and its purpose or lack of purpose and her adventure in the land of death.  
This view, which is hardly the only possible view, gives full weight and credence to the book her brother was reading that became associated with the day of the parent's death.  These confluences led her to appreciate the "Faithful and Virtuous Night" that lives in books, imagination, and the aftershocks of trauma and depression on the death of one's parents so early in life. As she says, "I found the darkness comforting."  Her poetry is a library on its significance for her.
The young girl lost her voice upon the death of her parents, indicating the importance of being able to speak one's feelings and turmoil and some mental balance in the face of "absolute" things that are irreversible and incomprehensible, as it was flowing through the girl. 
How will she survive such a trauma?  What will she make of her life where she now was living life as a boy? 
I love how she brings the reader in with her in the second poem at Section 6:  "You had been with me--"  talking to her brother, me, you in the land of the dead.
As both Gloria and Maribeth comment, she effectively employs every sense to enhance your feeling and to draw you in to be part of the narrative instead of the having a detached and ironical stance to the experience of the events.  She makes the poetic experience genuine.
At the same time, every interpretation I have made so far will change as the poet shape shifts the story to include much more reality, experience, paradox, and ambiguity the older she gets in the book, another self painting a shifting landscape for us.  Also, title of the book acquires other meanings.
I'll comment later on her specific poetic skills and visions.  Just one last observation:  what she is not telling or showing is as important as what she is telling and showing.  This aspect of her approach to poetry means the reader must do the work and provide the imaginative paint to complete the portraits she draws.  She draws you into the poetry to be the maker of it along with her, a brilliant achievement.




The Past

I loved reading The Past.  "small light in the sky appearing" and "now etched onto the radiant surface" as if an apparition of her mother, who I take as being deceased, suddenly appears. The comparison of sights (shadows, pine needles)and smells to remembering a loved one who can only be experienced through sensory experiences different from how you experience a person when they are alive I found very powerful. I enjoyed this poem very much.

Maribeth Price

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hi everyone, this is Gloria Harrington. In reading the first 3 poems by Louise Gluck in Faithful and Virtuous Night I gathered data on things in common, such as each had a detached dream-like mood.
Also, the ending stanza expressed an earlier statement in a different way:For example, " Parable" showed two viewpoints about purpose in regard to non-physical movement still at the first stage while "An Adventure" showed two perceptions of precipice. Finally, "The Past" contrasted sounds with the sound of mother's voice.  I enjoy her poetic descriptions of the landscape.
I have decided to study in groups of three poems since there are 21 poems. I have the E-book version on my Kindle. The next group of poems will have: "Faithful and Virtuous Night', "Theory of Memory", and "A Sharply Worded Silence".

I'm also interested in the symbols, images and words repeated in both groups of poems and through out the book.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Open Voting until June 28th

Welcome everyone to the Johns Creek Poetry Readers Group. 

I am thrilled that you are participating in this blog.  It is my hope that our conversations and interpretations that emerge from the reading the poetry books will further the goal of the Johns Creek Poetry Group.  The goal is to provide a forum for meeting and discussing the writing and reading of our own and other poet's work.  Also, this blog experience will work best if it is fun, instructive, informative, and an enjoyable way to expand our poetic horizon and poetry friends. 

Learning while having in depth discussions and viewpoints hopefully will stimulate and inspire your own poetry writing and process leading to new ways to envision and compose your experience into  poetic forms.

I would like to thank Steven Shields for everything he has done to get this blog up and running.  There would be no poetry readers group without it for his setting up of the blog was what gave me the idea for a poetry readers group in the first place.  The blog made a bridge that could expand ways to discuss poetry between our regular meetings and be a new way to more useful to all of our poetic lives.

Initial experimental period will run from July through November, 2015.  In this trial period, experiment with your blog writings and comments to further the dialogue.  We will be learning as we go to discover what works well, what does not, and what would be the best way to integrate the blog into our regular poetry meetings.

Open Voting until June 28th:  This will give every member time to get on the blog and become familiar with how to make the blog work for them.

Please vote by sending an e-mail to me.  Each member should have a copy of the recommended poetry books.  Members may add, change, or delete any selected book at any time.

I will announce the main selection and the alternate poetry book for the trial period on June 30th and give Amazon prices for the books.  Other sources with lower prices would be appreciated.

In the event that the members have no clear preference, I will make the selection of the main and alternate poetry book:  Louise Gluck, Faithful and Virtuous Night and, as alternate, Ruth Stone, In the Dark.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

The June Meeting

Saul Torres, Ron Boggs, and Dan Veach (seated)
We were honored to have Atlanta Review editor and internationally prominent poet Dan Veach present to us this morning.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This Is A Test. This Is ONLY A Test

Just checking to make sure the invitation system is functioning correctly.  This post will be deleted when I am sure that it is.  Thanks.

Introducing the Johns Creek Poetry Readers Group

Not that anyone is particularly following this blog (yet) but those who do will soon notice that there will be posts allowed by several different Johns Creek-area poets.  Allow me to introduce:  Ron Boggs,Maribeth Price, Jill Jennings, Gloria Harrington, Kathy Ellis, Saul Torres and me--your genial congenial host, Steven Shields.

The purpose of the group (and having these several authors) is to have more readers reading more books of poetry and commenting on them.  Hopefully whatever people find of interest will be of interest to others.  Comments on the blog (or in person) can be critical, supportive, interpretive--whatever.  This is an open forum.  For the moment the comments section for each post has been set to allow someone (me) to moderate them but only to delete spam and ads for Viagra.

To the business at hand, then.

I confess I have often been surprised at how often I have attended poetry readings over the years (and been in a few myself) where people come up afterwards and enthusiastically tell the reader what a wonderful job they did (as if it were work somehow) and then waft away without buying a book.  It's as if a compliment is more supportive than cold hard cash.  Maybe it seems crass.

When I have done readings, the sale of one or two books is a "good reading."  Yes, yes--poetry has a small readership.  But even among those who claim to be most interested, there seems a reluctance to plunk down a ten and carry off the spoils of the evening.

Maybe the problem in part lies in deciding what's a "good" book of poems.  Hopefully, that's where the group who form the nucleus of this blog can help a little.

Aside from readings, how exactly does one learn of a new work that may be worth reading (or retaining in your own library)?  It isn't as if there were a lot of press coverage of the release of new poetry books.  One website I have found helpful in this regard is Poetry Daily ( and their "news" section.  Lots of books are mentioned in these, as well as a compendium of new arrivals elsewhere on the page.  BTW, if you have a smartphone, download the app.  It works pretty well, I've found.

There may be other places, of course.  Maybe the shelves of Barnes and Noble is your favorite haunt.  Once folks have accepted the invitation to join in here, perhaps you can let the rest of us know your sorrces.  Thanks.

OK.  Ron has asked me to suggest a new or recent book to kick things off.  There are a couple of "can't miss" selections I immediately thought of.  Let me suggest Louise Gluck's latest "Faithful and Virtuous Night" as something to sink our collective teeth into.

The floor is now open.